When alimony is agreed upon in accordance with a Marital Settlement Agreement or awarded by a Court order, it is a legally enforceable obligation. As a result, if the payor-spouse refuses to pay or pays less than the agreed upon amount, the recipient spouse can file an application with the Court to enforce the support award.
The Court has the power to order the payor spouse to pay the amount owed and may use other tools to deter the spouse from future nonpayment. The available remedies include the following:
- Fixing the amount of arrearages and entering a Judgment upon which interest accrues;
- Requiring payment of arrearages on a periodic basis;
- Suspension of an occupational license or driver’s license consistent with law;
- Economic sanctions;
- Participation by the party in violation of the order in an approved community service program;
- Incarceration, with or without work release;
- Issuance of a warrant to be executed upon the further violation of the judgment or order;
- Payment of the other party’s counsel fees.
While the Court may take these actions, a recent appellate decision demonstrates that the ability to do so is within the judge’s discretion and not a requirement. In David v. Wynn, the former husband owed the former wife back alimony (also known as alimony arrears) as well as monies in connection with the former marital home. The trial judge granted many but not all of the former wife’s motions with respect to enforcement of the former husband’s obligation. The former husband was required to pay the former wife an additional $100 per week toward his alimony arrearages, a specified sum in connection with the parties’ former home, and the former wife’s counsel fees incurred in connection with two of her previous enforcement motions. However, the trial judge denied the former wife’s requests for additional interest, counsel fees, and sanctions against the former husband, including incarceration. The former wife appealed these denials.
The appellate court found no basis to reverse the decision finding that the trial judge dismissed the former wife’s additional requests without prejudice meaning she could raise them again if the former husband continued to refuse to pay. The trial court was within its discretion to hold more stringent enforcement options for possible future use in the event the former husband failed to comply.
Courts have broad enforcement powers when parties violate an agreement or court order for support. As a result, if you are seeking enforcement of a support award, it is important to consult an attorney to ensure you take appropriate legal action. If you are having trouble meeting your support obligations, contact us to discuss filing a modification and/or termination application with the Court as soon as possible to avoid an enforcement action and protect your rights.